CHAPTER 16 The Busy Grapevine

After forty-two months of virtual isolation from the great outside world, the news of international current events received over our underground radio made very interesting topics of discussion. In the past there had been news releases, but we had the suspicion that these releases were made to bolster morale as well as convey the truth. Also, when genuine news was released, it was sandwiched between items so far removed from the truth that it’s meaning was veiled. There was good reason for this. Our officers did not want the Japanese to know of the secret radio although they highly suspected it. As their intelligence roamed throughout the camp listening to every word, they must at times have been amused at all the incredible nonsense they heard. Of course if we knew that a spy was close by, our imagination would run riot and we would talk loudly about fictitious battles the outcome of which was blurred beyond recognition. Our captors must have laughed heartily at our seeming ignorance, and no doubt felt proud of the effectiveness of their “blackout” of world events. All these things considered, the Japanese soldier was more ignorant of world events then we were. They were fed a steady diet of atrocious propaganda.

Things for us were a little different now. It was evident from the reports of the underground radio that the tide of war was changing. The news was more encouraging. Around this time it was reported to us by devious channels that the American Navy had broken the back of the Japanese Grand Fleet. This tremendous news, coupled with the fact that the war in Europe was over, brought encouragement of a new kind to each one of us. Amid the secret rejoicing -- for we dare not show our exuberance -- there was one sad thought. The Japanese fighting force was very strong; the training of the young soldiers was being noticeably intensified. The morale of the Nipponese troops had never been greater. All this, along with our knowledge of the vast defense system, made them a formidable enemy, numerically and strategically powerful. The surging arrogance of the Japanese indicated that they were the victims of intense propaganda. The brainwashing experts had done their work well; with insolent presumption they felt and acted as if they were the Number One Nation in the world.

At about this period there was a cut in our rations, indicating to us that the enemy was experiencing difficulty in bringing supplies by sea. Although this did nothing to alleviate the frequent hunger pains in our empty stomachs, it boosted our morale immensely. Such reasoning, though subject to some doubt, helped to make the days more bearable, ease the strain of our seeming interminable incarceration, and further buoy our hopes that our eventual liberation was near. The work on the tunnels and airstrip never stopped. It was work as usual and “all men go.” In fact the Japanese were driving us harder than at any time since our return to Singapore and their attitude became more belligerent each day.

One of the officers told me one day that things were reaching a climax and that the eventual seizure of Singapore by the Allied Forces was only a matter of time. Meanwhile intensive preparations were being made by the Japanese. Huge gunsw ere being assembled and put in place; air activity was increasing daily. It was obvious that the Japanese command was expecting to be called upon to defend this strategic island fortress.

Planes from the Southeast Asia Command based in India paid frequent visits to the Island now. At first the ack-ack fire was very heavy, though rather inaccurate. As the days passed the ack-ack fire seemed to be lessening somewhat and there were not as many planes in the air as at the beginning of these attacks. The hours of darkness began to produce the thunder of revving plane engines, the roar of which would ultimately fade away in the distance. We comforted and encouraged each other in the thought that these planes were being redirected to other arenas of war where our enemies were being hard pressed. Singapore was being denuded of air power for the second time in four years. First by the British to strengthen the beleaguered forces of the Middle East, now by the Japanese to bolster their crumbling defense line in the Pacific.

The Japanese were a mysterious force to us, we could not understand them. We never knew what they were thinking and their general attitude changed so quickly that we often made grave mistakes. We found out by bitter experience that it was impossible to comprehend completely the Oriental mind. This is understandable when we realize that the Japanese nation has only been open to Western civilization for less than a century. They had hardly been exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ which softens men’s hearts and sets new ethical standards, so while hopes of freedom ran high, there lured in my mind the thought that the Nipponese troops might run amok and begin to shoot us prisoners. It was possible, I reasoned, that despite the many escapes from death in the past few years I might be living in the last days of my young life.

One day while walking a sick man near the barbed wire perimeter of our section of the camp someone from the main camp appeared suddenly from behind one of the huts and gave an exuberant “thumbs-up” sign. The enthusiasm of the gesture and the radiance of his face was meant to convey a message. They did -- I felt that victory was near. The unknown herald with the silent yet eloquent message disappeared into the maze of bamboo huts as quickly as he had appeared. For a few moments I stood there transfixed then experienced a flood of deep emotions, which I had thought to be long dead. The possibility of freedom in the very near future after three years and nine months of incarceration was almost unbearable. Freedom from the stench of rotting wounds and unwashed bodies. Freedom from the continual oppression and from the unscrupulous guards. Freedom for pressures and frustration, from the rough badgering of uncouth and ungodly men. Most stunning of all was the thought of “going home.” Home had been but an obscure memory, growing dimmer as the weary months dragged slowly past. Now as home came within my eager grasp, the floodgates of my pent-up emotions opened and I was instantly overwhelmed with my dear Heavenly Father’s goodness and human gratitude.

Returning to my friends I passed the word along to several of them. Speculation ran high among the prisoners, even the sick ones seemed to improve suddenly, and the air was electrified. Not long after this our Camp Commander was summoned to the Japanese headquarters. The meeting lasted for hours. It seemed interminable. We waited expectantly and, thank God, we did not wait in vain.